#debill – wtf?
Padraig Reidy #debill - wtf?
09 Apr 10

The Internet breathed a collective sigh of absolute bemusement this week when late on Tuesday evening the UK parliament passed the Digital Economy Bill, a bill seemingly written in order to keep antiquated media distribution methods going for another six months.

There are, of course, issues about how artists, writers and content creators cope in a world where people increasingly expect to read, watch and listen to material for free online. But the bill’s solution — cutting access to the Internet for lines that have been used to download material illegally, is quite simply ridiculous.

In a time when online activity is increasingly social rather than a matter of mere consumption, the idea of cutting someone’s access off, without any judicial/criminal process, is akin to online house arrest.

Except, of course, it’s worse. It’s much more indiscriminate, as internet connections tend to be shared by families and flatmates. In fact, technically, this could cause the closure of internet cafes, were their connections to be found being used illegally.

One of the arguments used in the Commons debate (step forward Stephen Pound MP) was that young suffering bands would never be able to make a living from their music. But Simon Indelicate, of Brighton-based group, er, The Indelicates, told Index:

Often in this debate, those urging the clumsy, ill-defined and dangerous measures mandated by the Digital Economy Bill have referred to poor struggling musical artists unable to make a living because of filesharing as its principle beneficiaries. Any musician with even a rudimentary appreciation of their predicament will know at once that this is garbage. The Record Industry has always exploited the expense involved in recording, promoting and distributing music to offer terrible, bankrupting deals to all but a vanishingly tiny minority of musicians. The Internet has nuked their business model by making these once scarce resources abundant – artists should be celebrating the opportunity this offers, not slavishly supporting legislation designed to anachronistically prop up a rotten old business that has been screwing them over since its inception. Well, not me. Filesharing has directly benefited me as a promotional tool – it is my cake. Stripping away rights from ordinary british people so as to fail to safeguard profits that would have been treated as recoupable income and never paid to me anyway would be eating it too. Not in my name. I wish more musicians would say the same.

(Read more of Simon Indelicate’s thoughts on the Digital Economy Bill here)

Anyway, what happens now? Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute suggests it’s not over yet:

The House of Commons may have rushed through the Digital Economy Act with minimal scrutiny, but I think public protest over its far-ranging provisions is just warming up. Most of the UK’s 50m Internet users are only just hearing about this threat to their ability to work, learn and express themselves online.

The Internet’s democratic potential will be damaged by powers in the Act for users to be disconnected and websites to be blocked. But in the meantime, the tens of thousands of citizens who complained about the lack of debate to their MPs will be thinking about next month’s general election. Voters have an ideal opportunity to favour candidates that support freedom of expression and promise to block the secondary legislation that is still needed in the next Parliament to bring many of the Act’s provisions into force.

Meanwhile, the Open Rights Group says:

This week, the Digital Economy Bill, with all its myriad problems, was pushed through – after the election was declared. Without full debate and scrutiny, and in the face of huge public opposition. Now, the same people that bypassed democracy want your vote, and are knocking on your door.
What You Can Do Now
We need to make this an election issue. Apparently, this is the ‘word of mouth’ election, where new social tools will dominate. Well, for the first two days the #DEBill has dominated Twitter and has gained 9,000 Facebook opponents, as well as 20,000 emails and 34,000 Number 10 petitioners.
Seems like the #DEBill is for a generation a sign that politicians are out of touch and unable to understand our values. So we’re organising to help you find candidates that do understand.
We are choosing which candidates we can support in each constituency, and helping local activists campaign. Did your MP help bypass democratic scrutiny? The voters need to know.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.